Given that the Cincinnati Reds have been five-years deep in a thorough rebuild, you’d imagine that their stockpile of newfound prospects have been hoarded in groups, moving through the minors with gradual collective improvement that bodes well for future big league success. Their AAA affiliate, you’d figure, would be the primary beneficiary of good drafts and big trades, right?
Well, if wins and losses are how you judge things, that couldn’t have been further from the case during the rebuild up the road on I-71. The Bats finished 15 games under .500 last year and a whopping 30 games under .500 in 2017, and actually haven’t had a winning season since their 73-71 campaign back in 2011. Of course, there are ample reasons for that - largely that the Reds have used their AAA affiliate as more of a shuttle-club for their young, inexperienced big league roster for years, instead of trying to assemble the best team possible for the duration of their season.
The hope for the 2019 will be the same, too. The Bats will begin the season with several talented prospects on their roster, but the ultimate success story for all parties involved will be for those players to play well enough to not be Bats for very long, as that would, in theory, earn them promotion to the bigs.
Here’s a quick look at the highlights we’ll see on their roster to begin the year.
The Bats Pitching
Depending on how you look at things, the pitching might well should be the strength of this club. They’ll feature starting options like Lucas Sims, Cody Reed, Sal Romano, Keury Mella, and Jackson Stephens, and could even end up back with Brandon Finnegan and Matt Wisler (if they clear waivers). All of them have, at times, been featured as some of the top young arms in the Cincinnati system, which makes you think they could be quite formidable.
Of course, each has also been thumped repeatedly at the big league level in varying amounts of exposure, and each’s prospect clock is certainly ticking.
40-man roster pitchers like Jimmy Herget, Jesus Reyes, and Jose Lopez, as well as former big league relievers Matt Bowman and Anthony Bass will figure into the bullpen mix along with the rotation of the rotation listed above (see what I did there?), which provides a good bit of depth to the Reds bullpen.
Perhaps the most intriguing pitcher Louisville will see is Tony Santillan, though, who generally ranks 5th or 6th on most lists of the top prospects in the Reds system after his 149 innings of 3.08 ball last year split between A+ Daytona and AA Pensacola. He’ll only just turn 22 in two weeks, and there’s a chance the former 2nd round pick begins the season back in AA in Chattanooga - he only logged 62.1 innings there last year - but he’s absolutely expected to figure into the Bats’ starting mix at some point this season.
The Bats Bats
Much to the chagrin of many folks who watched as Fernando Tatis, Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Chris Paddack, and Pete Alonso cracked Opening Day rosters of their respective teams as top prospects despite the loophole their teams could have used to manipulate their service time, Nick Senzel did, in fact, get booted to the minors to begin the 2019 season. Immediately afterwards, the top Reds prospect sprained his ankle and is set to be sidelined for at least a few weeks.
Rest assured, though, he’ll be the most potent prospect bat the Bats will have at their disposal to begin the year, and will most likely still be getting reps in CF despite the injury at the big league level to 2B Scooter Gennett.
Flanking Senzel in the everyday OF will be another former 1st round pick in Phil Ervin, who was blisteringly hot in Cactus League play but was squeezed out by the influx of OFs the Reds brought in this winter. He still figures to play a roll with the 2019 Reds at some juncture, but for now he’ll join Senzel as the team’s primary thumpers who still carry the most big league potential.
There’s still some additional talent surround those two, albeit with many more flaws. Defensive whiz Blake Trahan should serve as the team’s regular SS, Aristides Aquino and his big power should man a corner OF spot, Josh VanMeter will be a regular in the infield off an impressive 2018 season, and former 1st round pick Christian Colon is still in camp as a versatile utility option with 142 games of big league experience under his belt.
Steady 1B Nick Longhi, streaky but talented 3B Taylor Sparks, and catcher Juan Graterol also figure to feature regularly on the team’s roster to begin the year.
Longtime big league catcher Jody Davis will be at the helm as manager for Louisville this year, fresh off his stint managing the AA Pensacola Blue Wahoos last year. Joining him will be pitching coach Jeff Fassero, who has 16 years of big league pitching under his belt, as well as long-time big leaguer Leon Durham as the team’s hitting coach.
Dick Schofield will coach the bench. That’s what bench coaches do, right?